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Taylor & Francis
The Craft of Comedy / Edition 4

The Craft of Comedy / Edition 4


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"a work on the art and craft of comedy as important in its own way as works by Stanislavski and Chekhov" – Oxford Theatre Companion

In 1939, a young, inexperienced actor wrote to a famous actress of his acquaintance, asking for advice on playing comedy. She responded enthusiastically, and they corresponded variously over the next year. The Craft of Comedy, a record of these exchanges, soon emerged as one of the few classic texts in the field of comedy acting.

This major new edition takes a brilliant book and makes it better. Editor Robert Barton has devised extensive supplementary material, including:

  • An introduction to the correspondents, the culture of the time, and the evolution of their book;
  • Summaries, definitions, and exercises and practice scenes for readers wishing to explore Athene Seyler’s invaluable advice;
  • Photographs, additional essays by Seyler, and a guide to easily accessed video clips of her performing.

Seyler’s lucid guidance, and Barton’s scrupulous editorship, ensure this legendary work’s rightful status is restored: as one of the great practical guides to the craft of comedy, and an essential resource for actors and students of acting.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780415527248
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Publication date: 02/06/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.60(d)

Table of Contents

List of plates viii

Acknowledgments x

Introduction 1

Cultural contexts 3

Athene Seyler 7

Stephen Haggard 16

How the book evolved 20

1 Distorted truth 23

Stephen to Athene, June 8, 1939 23

Reply, June 10 24

Summary 27

Concepts: revue comedy, non-comic acting, comic foundation, comic spirit, distorted truth, comic state of mind 27

Exercises: Comic perspective, Adding delight 28

2 Tight-rope walking 31

Stephen to Athene, June 17, 1939 31

Reply, June 30 34

Summary 39

Concepts: comedy through situation, comedy through character, comedy of being out of character, lack of balance, distortion, tight-rope walking, over-statement, over-emphasis, understatement, shared secret, spiritual comprehension, personality, technique 39

Exercises: Personal tendencies, All out of proportion, Both sides now 40

3 Just do it 43

Stephen to Athene, July 20, 1939 43

Reply, July 21 46

Summary 53

Concepts: comedy essentials, national humor, farce, high comedy, comedy vein 53

Exercises: Delicate to broad, Sitting in fear, Bubbling with pleasure 54

4 Trust and confidence 57

Stephen to Athene, November 19, 1939 57

Reply, December 9 61

Summary 65

Concepts: confidence, taking the audience in, topping 66

Exercises: Assurance and creativity, Tricks of the trade 66

5 Rhythm 69

Stephen to Athene, January 15, 1940 69

Reply, January 22 74

Summary 84

Concepts: double take, breaking, rhythm, emphasis, business, breaking up the scene 84

Exercises: Scarfing, Opposition, Max and Anatol 85

6 Comedy of manners 87

Stephen to Athene, February 10, 1940 87

Reply, March 29 90

Summary 94

Concepts: leading up to a laugh, trodding on a laugh, antimodal comedy, three kinds of dramatic expression (poetic drama, straight drama or comedy, artificial or high comedy), leveling of emotion 94

Exercises: Period physical lives, Walk the walks 95

7 Delicate decadence 97

Stephen to Athene, April 18, 1940 97

Reply, April 20 98

Summary 110

Concepts: interest, manners without morals, line delivery, types 110

Exercises: Character distinctions, Relish and detail 111

8 The acting profession 113

Stephen to Athene, May 6, 1940 113

Reply, May 16 115

Stephen to Athene, May 31, 1940 117

Summary 119

Concepts: professional prerequisites, pursuing stardom, career pitfalls, career compensations 120

Exercise: Self-analysis 120


A Seyler's second thoughts 121

Summary 123

Concepts: spiritual antiseptic, two kinds of comedy, power of an audience, final enunciation, feed line 123

Exercises: Line or character?, Endings, Post mortem 124

B Fans, trains and stays 127

Applications: training, rehearsal, homework 133

C Plays referenced and scenes for practice 135

D Video clips 137

Athene Seyler 137

Stephen Haggard 138

E Tribute by Prunella Scales 139

F Additional sources - comedy books 143

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